Preventing Mass Shootings - How Should We Help the Public Work on this Problem?

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by Patty Dineen

The December, 2012 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut re-ignited public talk about what "we" as individuals, and especially, what "we" as a society should do about it.  Can we do anything to prevent the next one?  Can we identify likely future shooters? Can we make public places safer without turning such places into prison-like settings?  Would we have to give up some cherished personal freedoms in order to get the results we seek?  These and many other questions are being asked, discussed, debated, and argued about.

This public issue--what can, and what should we do to prevent this kind of violence?--as we all know, is presently being framed by many entities; media, interest groups, government, experts, and individuals in all segments of our society.  You might think that would be enough, but we don't think it is. The National Issues Forums Institute has a 32-year-long interest in a particular kind of issue framing; that is, framing a public issue in a way that can help people deliberate; or carefully consider a spectrum of approaches to dealing with the issue.  Deliberation also requires unflinching consideration of the possible consequences, costs, and tradeoffs inherent of each approach.

Some people who have found this kind of issue framing helpful in the past have expressed their desire for an NIFI issue framing that would help people talk about Newtown,and other mass shootings that have happened in recent years.  In response, there is a group presently working to produce such an issue framework.  Here is what Brad Rourke, executive issue book editor, Kettering Foundation, has announced about this work:

Many in the National Issues Forums network have asked whether there are materials available to aid communities in deliberating over the issues raised by the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut. We anticipate making such materials available here (on the National Issues Forums website) shortly. For more information please contact Brad Rourke at

In the meantime the following are some presently available resources that may be helpful to those who would like to deliberate about violence, and/or to frame violence-related issues.

What do you think? We welcome your posting of links to other discussion guides or issue frameworks related to the issues raised by the Newtown and other shootings; and especially your thoughts and comments in the comment section.  As always, thank you.

Naming and Framing Issues to Make Difficult Decisions
Naming and Framing Local Issues for Public Deliberation
From the National Issues Forums Institute (NIF): Youth and Violence: Reducing the Threat
From the Mathews Center for Civic Life:  Bullying: What Is It? How Do We Prevent It
From the Teaching Deliberatively Workshop in Des Moines, Iowa:  Bullying: How Should Schools Address This Growing Problem
From the West Virginia Center for Civic Life:  How can we build safe and strong neighborhoods in West Virginia?
From the Oklahoma Partnership for Public Deliberation:  Intimate Partner Violence: What Can We Do
From Everyday Democracy:  Confronting Violence in Our Communities